By Jason Shetler
On Wednesday, the Pirates made an interesting move, signing veteran right-hander Tom Koehler. The contract is unique in that it’s a minor league deal, but also includes a club option for the 2020 season.
Koehler is a former 18th round draft selection of the Florida (now Miami) Marlins back in 2008. During his first few years in the Marlins system, he became one of their more “under the radar” pitching prospects. Koehler arrived to Miami in 2012 as a September call up, appearing in eight games, including one spot start.
In 2014, Koehler had his best campaign with the Marlins, as he posted a 3.81 ERA, a 3.84 FIP and a bWAR of 2.3 in 32 starts. Outside of that year however, he had been pretty much replacement level.
After parts of six seasons in Miami, Koehler was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August of 2017. He was used primarily as a reliever with the Jays and performed very well, posting a 2.65 ERA, along with a FIP of 3.22 and a 9.5 K/9 in 15 games.
Despite Koehler’s good work in relief, Toronto still decided to non-tender him after the season. A few weeks later, on December 20th, 2017, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Koehler to a one-year deal for $2 million, which included incentives. The Dodgers were looking to capitalize on Koehler’s mini success pitching in relief the year prior, but they weren’t able to, as he dealt with a strained right shoulder in Spring Training, leading to season-ending shoulder surgery in July. Koehler never appeared in a regular season game for the Dodgers and was given an unconditional release in November.
The Pirates didn’t offer Koehler an invitation to big league camp, since obviously he’s still recovering from the surgery. Most of 2019 will see him try to rehab his way back. Koehler throws a mid-90’s fastball and has a four-pitch mix, with both the curveball and slider being quality offerings. He’ll likely be in Pittsburgh late in the year, either August or September, and if he’s able to return to his 2017 form with Toronto, then the Pirates will have themselves a nice bullpen option heading into 2020.